Teachers at the ETemS conference were urged to look at the classroom for solutions to problems. HARIATI AZIZAN reports.
THE policy of teaching Science and Mathematics in English is here to stay.
This resounding affirmation by Education Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Tun Hussein at the closing of the second English for the Teaching of Maths and Science (ETeMS) Conference held recently, seemed to reflect the sentiments of the participants.
According to feedback and questions raised at the conference, the ETeMS programme – in its third year of implementation – seems to have weathered initial teething problems and is now all set for its next developmental phase.
And despite initial resistance to the policy, stakeholders seem to have come to terms with the changes and are working together to advance things further.
Teachers, for instance, are now more concerned about how to improve the classroom situation.
In a way, the ETeMS Conference 2005 sought to return to the root of the matter, the schools, with its theme Fostering schools that learn.
Organised by the English Language Teaching Centre (ELTC) Malaysia, the three-day conference held in Subang Jaya, Selangor, was attended by more than 100 participants. It proved to be an enriching experience for science, mathematics and English language teachers, teacher educators, researchers and administrators – from primary, secondary and higher education levels all over the country – who got together to share experiences.
The objectives of the conference included examining the impact of curricular innovation on classroom learning; re-assessing issues related to the implementation of the innovation; fostering professional dialogue among administrators and practitioners; and exploring and evaluating pedagogical strategies and resources.
Coming at the midpoint of the implementation of this innovation, the ELTC conference offered an opportunity for participants to appraise current implementation issues and develop synergies with each other for the future.
The conference featured international speakers as well as research papers from local educators.
While the first ETeMSconference in 2003 focused on managing curricular change, this year's conference focused on the impact of the policy change on the curriculum, students and teachers, and raised the issue of where to go from there.
“The students' needs are prime – we need to be careful that we don't lose them in the midst of change,” said ELTC director Dr Rabiah Ghani.
Echoing this was one teacher's lament, “We have been so busy trying to cope with the new medium of instruction, attending training, and coming to terms with the notebooks and teaching scripts that we tend to forget about what students are going through.”
Malaysian Examinations Syndicate examinations director and keynote speaker Dr Salleh Hassan set the tone with his paper Examinations and Assessment in Schools – The Way Forward, which provided a timely reminder on the importance of creating flexible, learner-centred, classroom-based assessment to foster learning in classrooms. Dr Salleh also stressed on the importance of embracing new learning trends, particularly those in line with using ICT in education.
He was followed by Chan Swee Heng from Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM) who spoke on Towards greater accountability in ESL Assessment: Exploring learner-based approaches.
John Clegg from the University of Nottingham revisited training issues for teachers of maths and science in English with his paper Training teachers to teach maths and science in English: what we tend to forget.
Commending Malaysia for taking a risk in meeting the challenges of globalisation, Clegg said “Malaysia is brave as it is risky to abandon a system that works in its bid to make the nation a global player.”
He looked at the demands on learners who have to learn a subject in a language they are not fluent in, and the pedagogical skills needed by teachers who have to teach maths and science in English.
“Trainers, both language and subject specialists, sometimes forget that they need to talk in a certain way to help their learners answer questions, discuss and understand the lesson,” he said.
Clegg also stressed the importance of a holistic training for teachers of maths and science, highlighting the differences between language specialists and subject specialists in teacher training.
“Language specialists often focus on training teachers in the use of general-purpose language in the classroom and underplay the language of subject learning, while subject specialists focus on helping learners to listen and read the subject in the second language, underplaying speaking and writing,” added Clegg.
Other international keynote speakers include Joanna Higgins from Virginia University of Wellington, New Zealand, who spoke on The New Zealand numeracy development project: Implications for fostering schools that learn; John Kullman from Canterbury Christ Church University, England, on Encouraging the learner: culture, identity and the English language textbook; and Michele de Courcy from University of Melbourne, Australia, on Fostering language learning in the science and mathematics classrooms: students' perspectives.
The optimism is also apparent in the other papers presented, which explored areas such as learning environments, teaching in challenging contexts, learner preparation, curriculum issues, teacher development, ESL, Science and Mathematics, English and ICT education, leadership and innovation, resource development and management, assessment for learning and cultural contexts.
A common problem faced by teachers, especially those who taught students with low English proficiency, was where to draw the line when it came to using both the first language (Bahasa Malaysia or Mandarin) and the second language (English) in the classroom.
“It is not wrong to use the first language in the classroom to help explain complex problems or get through particular lessons. This is great in helping learners adjust,” advised Clegg.
Another issue high on the agenda is the buddy system for subject teachers and language teachers. Set up to provide resource persons in schools to assist maths and science teachers, the system ran into problems due to the teachers' heavy workload.
“But, there are many positive aspects,” said a presenter who declined to be named. “If you are committed, you can form a mentoring relationship that fosters learning through a social process, where talk is central and social interaction encouraged,” he said.
The conference certainly gave teachers fresh ideas on how to do a better job in the new year.
One of the crowd's clear favourites was Lucille Dass who gave an animated presentation with lots of practical tips and new ideas for making maths and science fun for learners.
As more papers were presented this year, the organisers had to create parallel sessions.
For education officer, Asmah Ali from Pahang (not real name), the conference proved to be an enlightening one.
“Sometimes it is difficult to get a real idea of what is happening in the classroom, so this has been good for me as I get to understand what is happening at grass root level,” she said.